I have a soft spot for kids and I wait for the day to have my own. I do not fear giving birth; what I fear as a mother is not being able to protect my child from the pain that this world can bring; the failure of governments to live up to their promises; the discrimination they will face even though their race, sex, nationality, tribe was never their choice; the betrayal that they will never see coming from the people they trust; the cruelty that they will be shown or experience from people in this world who come in the form of close family members, strangers or men of God.
I fear not being able to shield my child from abuse and the physical and psychological trauma that comes with it.
It has become common to hear stories of children being sexually abused by their parents, teachers, pastors, house helps, uncles, and friends. The list is endless. If children are not safe in their own homes, how are they to be protected from being robbed off their innocence?
Sometime last year, it was reported that a man sexually abused his child after his wife left him following domestic disputes between the two. But this is not a novel story within Kenya.
Just a few month ago, there was the story of the HIV positive man in Malawi who confessed to having sex with over 100 girls, some even below 12 years old, without using a condom. The accused said that he was hired by the girls’ relatives to take part in a sexual initiation ceremony which is believed to “shake off” the girls’ childhood “dust” so that they can enter adulthood. And for that…he only got two years imprisonment!
“Calling [these activities] ‘cultural practices’ kind of masks what this is. Underneath it all, it’s pure and simple violence against women and girls.”Anber Raz, the deputy director of Donor Direct Action
There is a myth that prevails in South Africa that it is believed that if a man sleeps with a virgin they will be cured. It is because of this and so many other factors, such as lack of education and awareness, that has led to thousands of babies still months old being raped by grown men.
And before we start saying that this a matter that is unique to the African continent, there was recent documentary that exposes the Indian Perna caste where entering the sex trade is a normal next step after marriage and childbirth for girls and women.
Article 53 (1) (d) of the Constitution of Kenya, with specific reference to and application of rights of the child, states that
Every child has the right:
(d) to be protected from abuse, neglect, harmful cultural practices, all forms of violence, inhuman treatment and punishment, and hazardous or exploitative labour;
The Children Act, a local legislation that brings to effect the provisions of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, defines Child Abuse to include physical, sexual, psychological and mental injury. Section 13 and 15 of the Children Act also states that children should be protected from abuse and sexual exploitation.
Despite the fact that Kenya has tough laws touching on sexual abuse, defilement and sexual harassment, most of the victims who are children are afraid of speaking up. This is due to many contributing factors based on culture and social context. Such as was the case in Malawi because when witnesses were called upon to testify, they feared coming out. A wife will be afraid to expose her husband of abusing their daughter.
A family would want to settle the matter out-of-court to avoid airing their dirty linen in public. A child would be afraid to say what happened because their life was threatened and worst of all, if they dared did speak up, they wonder if their family will have their back and believe the story or they will be labeled a liar and get punished severely.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that 36-62% of all sexual assault victims are aged below 15 years. Most of these are school going children with majority being the girl child as victims. What is even worse is when out of the sexual encounter the victim who in most cases is a female child, is impregnated.
Considering the fact that abortion is illegal in Kenya, the child has to carry the pregnancy to term, bringing in an aspect of early child parents who are forced to stay away from school because some principals fail to be sympathetic to the girl, denying them the chance to be educated. Even worse is the possibility of procuring unsafe back door abortions which put the young mothers’ life at risk!
Children should be encouraged to be able to speak out without fear. Communities need to be educated to report sexual abuse on children as opposed to settling the matter using traditional methods.
The Court and Judicial officers are doing their best but more needs to be done. Recovery from any form of abuse takes time and a lot of counselling and support. Victims need much counselling from their family and professional counsellors. The Government should also step in to ensure that where possible victims are relocated to another location in order for them to get a chance to move on.
Section 118,119 and 120 of the Children Act provides for children who are in need and care of protections. The Sexual Offences Regulations 2008 provides for the registration of sexual offenders. However, such information is not readily available electronically since the court system relies majorly on hardcopy and hand written materials. The sexual offenders should be compiled into one data that is accessible to the public.
The Police also need training on how to handle matters of sexual abuse. In theory, there do exists Gender Desks in police stations but practically, they are not located country wide and even those stationed there lack the training or sensitisation on how to effectively deal with sexual abuse cases.
The history of police brutality is also a hindrance because victims are afraid of reporting such cases out of fear of shame or being even further abused by the police who are to protect them. Police at times go even far as to blame the victim; as if what they have gone through isn’t traumatising and painful enough.
The increase of police women in the highly male dominated sector is a walk in the right direction. Women are more sensitive to children matters and it is easier for a child to open up to a warm face.
I definitely do not wish to bring up my child in fear but then again, deep down what I fear most is what the world might do to my children. So for the sake of our future children, let’s make the world a better place for all boys and girls.